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Geoff Baker: Win now or build for future? In today's NHL, choice becoming clear.

Geoff Baker, The Seattle Times on

Published in Hockey

SEATTLE — Watching the just-completed opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs underscored yet again how difficult it is to win a championship.

Or, at least, to plan on winning one. There's a difference. And one that Kraken fans should take note of.

We saw five opening-round series go to Game 7, the second-most in NHL history. Among survivors, we've got the treat not only of a Battle of Florida between the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers but also the first postseason Battle of Alberta since 1991 between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.

The remaining series will see Colorado play St. Louis and Carolina face the New York Rangers.

If you can pick a clear Cup favorite, you're better at this than me. Florida, Colorado and Carolina finished 1-2-3 in the standings, and none has proved all that capable of escaping the second round of late. The Panthers finally made it beyond Round 1 for the first time since 1996.

As for Tampa Bay, the team that beat the Maple Leafs 2-1 in Game 7 in Toronto looked gassed and nothing like the champions of the previous two seasons.

 

Which brings us back to today's topic: The difficulty of capturing championships in a salary-cap league designed to prevent repeat winners and promote parity.

And that reality bumps up against the oft-expressed desire of teams and fan bases hoping to build lasting success through the slow but steady construction of a championship-level core. After all, if championships are elusive by design, then can lasting success truly be defined by winning titles?

And if we accept that teams can no longer realistically plan for lasting championship-level success — especially not in the NHL — then sacrificing years on end to build that core seems particularly futile.

Part of me wonders whether sustained success is being improperly defined by attaching the "championship" dimension. Sure, the ultimate goal of every player and fan is winning it all. But the critical question is whether pro sports teams — given the quest for parity by modern leagues — are actually capable of successfully planning to regularly win championships.

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